Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Twisted sisters (and brothers)


At the Yo La Tengo gig a couple of weeks back, I mooted the concept of a Cardiff Indie Scene I-Spy game. Well, tonight would be even more ideal for trying it out.

It's hardly surprising, though. After all, this is the launch gig for a new CD, This Town Ain't Big Enough For The 22 Of Us, featuring 22 representatives of the city's burgeoning music scene, compiled by the scene's spiritual godfather Gary of Twisted By Design and enthusiastically endorsed by Spillers Records and Radio 1's Bethan and Huw amongst others. In honour of the occasion, no fewer than eight of the featured bands are performing, and it's a complete sell-out.

Doors having opened at 5pm, we don't arrive until 6pm, by which time things are already running well behind schedule. Not a bad thing, though, when it means we're fortuitous enough to catch the tail end of the opening set from Little My (And Friends) - the "friends" on this occasion being members of fellow This Town... bands Hornby Pylons and Silence At Sea (plus Tom and Neil of Los Campesinos!), whose songs are also aired. No Guess Who? board percussion this time (at least, not that we're here to witness), and no tell-tale Vaselines cover, but the delicately shambolic songs and kids-in-a-music-shop attitude to composition charm all the same. In any case, you can hardly fault a ten-plus strong band sporting a variety of animal headdresses, can you?

By contrast, The Stray Borders (formerly Tetsuo) come across as rather earnest - not necessarily something I'd normally react against, but it goes against the grain of the playful mood set by Little My And Friends. There's some neat guitar interplay and powerful drumming in their dark predominantly instrumental rock, but not a great deal to get genuinely excited about. Personally speaking, a bit of a disappointment on the night, all told, but there's more than enough on their MySpace page - the list of influences and the recorded version of set- and compilation-closer 'In Case Of Emergency Break Glass' in particular - to suggest that on another day I might be rather more taken by them.

There can't be many guitar / drums / keyboards / viola combos around, and that's enough to arouse my interest in Threatmantics. And unlike many of the other bands on the compilation, the three members are all Welsh born and bred. The trio specialise in a purely visceral in-your-face gypsy punk, showcased to best effect on 'Get Outta Town'. If I have a criticism, it's that, impressive as it is for Huw Alan Davies to combine drumming and keyboard duties simultaneously, the beat becomes a bit wayward at times.

By contrast, there's nothing ragged about The Loves - as might be expected of an outfit who have already released an album with Track & Field and recent single 'Xs And Os' on Fortuna Pop, and recorded a live session for Radio 6 at Marc Riley's request at the beginning of the week. Seven members strong, they describe their influences as "The Velvet Underground and The Monkees. That's it". I'd go for 60s garage rock and psychedelia as seen through a bifocal lens of American power pop and quintessentially English bedroom indie. They may have their critics here in Cardiff (see this review of debut LP Love and ensuing comments from the BBC Wales site), and too often they stray towards shameless thievery ('Louie Louie', 'Wild Thing' and 'Twentieth Century Boy' are all more than suggested during the course of the set) - but there's still an irresistible (for me, at least) swagger about the songs that reminds me of an uptempo Spiritualized on the happy pills.

I've attributed my disappointment with The Stray Borders to their being out of sync with the bands around them. But then how to explain my permagrin during Gindrinker's set, given that - in terms of their performance, at least - they spit in the face of the whole loved-up matey vibe? Violence, anger and misanthropy are the orders of the day. First song? That'd be 'Covered In Bugs', the one about being chopped up and left in bin bags, then. Their contribution to the compilation is impassioned rant 'Hey Greengrocer', nearly as apoplectic as 'Tax Exiles' (about taking baseball bats to the likes of Paul McCartney and Bono), but for my money Jim Bowen tribute 'God Of Darts' is the stand-out. Guitarist Graf launches himself offstage and into the crowd with the very first note of the set, and later sends vocalist and part-time Lesson No.1 quizmaster D C Gates' whisky and soda flying. Gates, meanwhile, looks witheringly down at those sat at the front saying "Stand up you swine", and later replies to a question from the crowd, "What are you going to ask Father Christmas for?", with "World peace, man ... or maybe some socks". And yet he is generous in his thanks to Gary for the whole project. Big softies at heart, perhaps?

Even still, The Wave Pictures can't help but come across as unfeasibly nice. They've got significant form (as associates of Herman Dune and The Jeffrey Lewis Band and one-time backing musicians for John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats), the songs (particularly the last one about sculptures made of marmalade) are pleasant enough in their own melodically chipper way and frontman David Tattersall has a great voice, but I just can't get into it. And what's with all the incongruous Iron Maiden style soloing?

Attack + Defend's songs are like short sharp spasms, twitchy and agitated. At times I'm concerned that, with the matching outfits and predominant disco-punk vibe, they're Johnny-Come-Lately zeitgeist followers (albeit good ones), but then they throw something unexpected into the mix (an element of early Coral-style knees-up, some You & The Atom Bomb off-kilter oddness, a heavy dose of keyboards). Their 'Lucky Dawg' it is that kicks off the compilation, and is dedicated to recently deceased pet dog Biff. Actually, they have a thing for animals, having named their February EP Owl. That'd be why there are T-shirts with pictures of owls on for sale at the merchandise stall, then.

And so, with the time gone 11pm and our legs aching, the evening comes to a head with a performance from Cardiff's undisputed band of the moment, finally signed to Wichita following an A&R feeding frenzy. The group huddle gives the impression of closeness and togetherness - but then so does everything that follows. Los Campesinos! are now a band exuding confidence - and so they should be, given the formidable armoury of songs they have at their disposal.

'Death To Los Campesinos!', 'Please Don't Tell Me To Do The Math', 'It Started With A Mix', 'We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives' – fantastic tunes one and all. ‘Infinite Lives’ is dispensed with tonight to make way for a couple of high quality newies, one (the set opener) featuring a shouted chorus about the “international tweepop underground” and the other described a little ingenuously by Gareth as “a ballad”. There’s also room for a quick Hendrix-esque rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ – just as there was last time I found myself upstairs in Clwb. The best is naturally saved till last – and with Los Campesinos! that means ‘You Me Dancing!’ with added fists aloft for the line about Twisted By Design and then ‘Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks’. Most (myself included) are induced into vigorous bobbing and jigging, and happy grins adorn the faces of everyone else.

The man of the hour takes to the stage for one last time to the chants of "Gary, Gary!", thanking all those involved in the evening and the production of the CD - and us, too. Humble to the last. Gareth Campesinos is right - there IS something special going on in Cardiff at the moment, and this gig (and the compilation) has gone a long way toward proving it. Not all of the bands have quite been to my taste, but that's as it should be - there's no stylistic straitjacket, no rigid uniformity to which bands must adhere. And that can only be a very good thing.

On a tangential note, both Gareth and Tom Campesinos have contributed to the Songs To Learn And Sing feature that has been running on Sweeping The Nation all this month, raving about Bikini Kill's 'In Accordance To Natural Law' and Yo La Tengo's 'Blue Line Swinger' respectively. Read, listen and learn.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

News but no tributes

Sad news: following disappointing sales of their second album News And Tributes, The Futureheads have parted company with their label 679 Recordings.

Not so long ago (Glastonbury 2005, for instance), it seemed as though the boys from the Dark Place could do no wrong. But there's no doubt that, though it has its moments, News And Tributes came as something of a disappointment.

Vocalist / guitarist Barry Hyde's comments smack of someone putting a brave face on it and in so doing protesting too much: "I'm over the moon about it to be honest with you, 'cos I feel like we're free now. We weren't happy as a band on that label. It's good to get out of the shackles of being tied down to something. I think it's put us in a very strong position 'cos we're still a band that people like".

I hope for their sakes it genuinely is liberation, rather than being cut adrift.

And just as they've been set free, another of my favourites have been signed up (see above). Let's just hope Los Campesinos! don't come to see their deal in terms of being shackled.

(Thanks to Kenny for the link.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

In The Dock: Belle & Sebastian

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

The Jonathans are taking over...

This week's subject: Belle & Sebastian

The case for the prosecution (Jonathan S)

The germ of Belle & Sebastian’s music was, oddly and appropriately, rooted in sickness. Stuart Murdoch, the band’s main songwriter and driving force, took to songwriting late, and only did so during an extended bout of illness in the early 1990s. This tells you almost everything you need to know about Belle & Sebastian.

Aiming to prosecute a band over an irrational hatred is probably a bad place to start, but I have experienced something like ten years of throbbing, persistent irritation when it comes to B&S. At university my friend, Chris, was forever playing their first album, and when we did a student radio show together I would always pick the fiercest, most corrosive bit of punk or hip-hop to follow his selections, to illustrate retrospectively how weak, how insipid his favourite band was.

Over the years I’ve evolved from this visceral reaction to a more measured, weary antipathy. And at the same time, I’ve noted that there are things to like about B&S. Despite many of their songs, like the quite sweet ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ starting so softly and weakly that I want to bash the turntable, they have a habit of picking up a head of steam and attaining a kind of mimsy northern soul stomp which I can enjoy. And Murdoch is clearly capable of writing good lyrics, too. Other people balk at B&S because of their fanbase, I’ve noticed, the cardigan and spectacle wearing indie-boys, the cutesy girls with their vintage dresses. This isn’t something that bothers me much either – I’ve met a lot of the latter over the years and I usually want to go to bed with them, rather than snap their hairclips.

I mean, they’re twee. Everyone can see that, and that’s another reason people seem to hate them. But I’ve got a pile of Sarah 7”s in the corner myself – not been listened to for a while, but they’re there, and they used to mean a lot to me. So what is it that winds me up so much, which makes me stick my fingernails into my palms when I hear their records?

It all goes back to that sickness, I think. Their songs sound so rooted in it, so redolent of that drowsy, insipid climb back to health. They make me a bully, resenting their apologetic, pathetic tone, the self-imposed limitations of their sound. The melodies are unbearably sugary, counterbalancing the frailty of the music, but that just makes me more angry still, the chirpy, soulless horn arrangements, this kind of faux-joyful passive aggression. When I see a child in a supermarket banging his little fists on the floor, I think of Belle & Sebastian.

The smugness is a big problem. Murdoch is an OK lyricist, although totally lacking the wit of, say, Morrissey. Even Darren Hefner manages better jokes than him. But frequently the cleverness of the lyrics totally undermines any sense of charm – "It doesn't pay to be smarter than teachers / Smarter than most boys". Murdoch comes off a little like the anti-hero of Wes Anderson’s hugely likeable 'Rushmore', but taken as a whole B&S remind me more of his ‘The Life Aquatic’, which is admirable in parts but taken as a whole teeth-grindingly irritating. Murdoch’s occasionally self-satisfied air, the sneering put-downs in his lyrics… at least Morrissey knew how to laugh at himself.

Occasionally B&S make me wonder if I’ve been unnecessarily harsh to them over the years – deciding to record with Trevor Horn would have been a good idea if they hadn’t introduced a range of ghastly 70s rock influences at the same time. B&S doing Thin Lizzy really is too much. The Life Pursuit captured my attention via a slight tightening up and some unexpected lines ("Another day in June / We’ll pick eleven for football / We’re playing for our lives / The referee gives us fuck all") but the glam rock riffs just make you think "is this as ambitious as they get?". And why aren’t they bothering with tunes any more?

What I hate about B&S is the persistent failure to get their obvious qualities across. How can I love a band who engineer the line "You are the funny little frog in my throat" so that the last word rhymes with "poet"? Somehow B&S just manage to make their meek, romantic vision of love and art just seem so horridly arid and thin, textureless. Personally, when they play, each of my hackles is simultaneously raised. Whatever hackles are.

The case for the defence (Jonathan B)

Thursday lunchtime, and I have retired to the upstairs bar of Manchester’s Cornerhouse café, which is, I think, an appropriately bohemian location in which to compose an impassioned defence of everyone’s favourite fey Glaswegian indie popstrels Belle & Sebastian. 750 words or less, Ben tells me - and as I have just wasted 46 of them telling you what I get up to on my Thursday lunch-hour, perhaps I should get to the point. Now then, those charges…

Charge number one: (at least I imagine so, the defence counsel not having been privy to the prosecution papers, which strikes me as a grievous assault on the most basic of legal principles, but what can you do?)…. Belle & Sebastian Are Too Damn Twee For Their Own Good.

Now I should make an admission here right from the start, which is that I’m not sure I believe it is actually possible to be too twee at all. I mean, what is there not to like about anaemic quartets of provincial indie-kids with second-hand stripey cardigans and third-hand jangly guitars, shambling around the country apparently under the impression it’s still 1987? I for one can’t think of anything remotely distasteful about such a scenario, and in fact if I had my way would have the whole damn lot of you forcibly transported back to 1987, when Marks & Spencers cardigans were de rigueur among the nation’s youth, and latterday rock 'n' roll wildmen Primal Scream were still sporting floppy fringes and trading in uber-jangly 90 second bouncealong laments to unrequited love with names like ‘Velocity Girl’.

Oh bugger, I’m making the prosecution case here, aren’t I? Time to move along, I think, to….

Charge number two: That singer bloke out of Belle & Sebastian can’t really sing, can he?

Look, we know Stuart Murdoch can’t really sing; it’s all part of the indiepop aesthetic, like wearing your grandad’s cardigans and spending November afternoons on park benches gazing across the boating lake and pining after that girl on 2nd year Humanities with the perfect 60s bob and the long big-buttoned pale-blue raincoat. Anyway, if you took Stuart Murdoch out of Belle & Sebastian and replaced him with some show-off who could actually sing, like the bloke out of Wet Wet Wet or, I don’t know, Luciano Pavarotti, then, well, it wouldn’t sound quite right, would it?

No, if you want booming, swooping vocals then bugger off to La Scala or somewhere. Otherwise, leave us indiekids alone to trill along into our bedsit hairdryers with our fragile, reed-thin vocal chords. Do you not think we have enough to worry about, what with the extortionate price of cardigans these days, and the girl with the perfect bob unaccountably falling for that geeky fourth-year chemist with the acne and the shelf-full of Level 42 albums?

Charge number three: Belle & Sebastian have only really got two songs; the slow one with the quiet jangly guitars, and the fast one with the loud jangly guitars.

Now I’m just not having that. There’s also the really slow one with the acoustic-sounding guitars and the girl singer (who can actually sing but we’re not holding that against her), and the really fast one with the extra-jangly guitars, the brass section, and the highland fling. And then there’s the one which starts off fast but ends up slow, and the one which starts off slow (with the girl singer), but ends up fast (with the boy singer, and possibly a trumpet). So that’s at least six songs, which is three more than Oasis managed, and four-and-a-half more than Travis, Coldplay and the Magic Numbers put together. And how many of those outfits, by the way, do you suppose have released seven increasingly critically-acclaimed albums, the sixth of which was produced by the legendary Trevor Horn - a man one does not readily associate with plodding indiepop-ghetto sameyness?

Not many, I’ll warrant. Now then, I think I have worked myself up into quite enough of a righteous indiepop lather for one lunchtime - and, much as I might like to spend my afternoon lounging in this here bohemian coffee-bar I really can’t, largely on account of the fact I’m not a member of Belle & Sebastian. Life is so unfair! I entreat you, members of the jury, to prove there is at least some justice in the world by finding my stripey-T-shirted clients innocent of the charges levelled against them - whatever they may turn out to have been. Thank you and good night.

* * * * *

Thanks to both Jonathans. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, November 24, 2006

In The Dock: R'n'B - the verdict

A particularly hotly-contested one, this - sometimes a bit too hotly contested... The jury has delivered a clear verdict, though.

In favour of Swiss Toni's case for the prosecution: 6 (Stevious, Lithaborn, Mark, JonnyB, Lord Bargain, drmigs)

In favour of Del's case for the defence: 15 (James, Dead Kenny, Mike, Caskared, Ian, Tina, Damo, Pete A, Ben, Paul, Martin, RussL, Jenni, Betty, Jonathan B)

In favour of a mistrial: 1 (Literary Hoax)

(RussL in a false moustache / The Polyphonic Spree: You can't fool me...)

All of which means that R'n'B is cleared of the charges brought against it.

Thanks again to Swiss Toni and Del for their contributions.

Next up, over the weekend: the two Jonathans go head-to-head over Belle & Sebastian.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Le freak, c'est chic


Another evening down at the Point, another game of Cardiff Indie Scene I-spy. It's much less busy than last night, so much so that they've got tables and chairs out at the back of the room, but look! There's Lesson No 1's Noel again! And over there D C Gates, Gindrinker's unstable raconteur / frontman! And Carl of Forecast too (after all, this is another of his nights).

Easing us gently into the evening's entertainment are Voice Of The Seven Woods. Or should that be "First up IS Voice Of The Seven Woods"? After all, VOTSW is one man, Rick Tomlinson. Not that you'd guess if you had your back to the stage, though. You see, Tomlinson adroitly and repeatedly samples himself, then replaying back the recordings whilst playing something new over the top. The songs are literally constructed on stage. When you can do this, who needs anyone else? Tomlinson is a one-man-band for the twenty-first century.

His songs are a bit special too, demanding a silence the audience is quick to grant them. Tomlinson, who records for Andy Votel's Twisted Nerve label, deals in a kind of apocalyptic comedown folk - very tricksy instrumentals (aside from one with a lyric about the coming dawn) which are both seductive and vaguely sinister.

All of which sets the scene nicely for Acid Mothers Temple. Or Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., to give them their full title. The prolific Japanese foursome, part of the Acid Mothers collective, are touring in support of their latest LP, Have You Seen The Other Side Of The Sky?. I'm guessing you've already got some sense of what they sound like.

Acid Mothers Temple suggest that Western culture travels very, very slowly to Japan. It seems our 1980s and 1990s certainly haven't arrived there just yet. They are The Beatles of Sgt Pepper's or The White Album gone heavy metal, or Black Sabbath if they were utterly mushroom-fucked rather than just a bit snowblind.

Founder member and guitarist Kawabata Makoto has an even more insanely bouffant barnet than Russell Brand, looking something like former Soundgarden stringsman Kim Thayil after a scrap with a pair of hair crimpers. With his floating pyjama-esque trousers and long grey hair, Higashi Hiroshi (synthesizer / guitar), resembles a wizard who's temporarily misplaced his cape and hat. Drummer Uki Eiji has a tufty grey Mr Miyagi beard. Beanie-hatted bassist Tsuyama Atsushi might ostensibly cut a more sober figure, but then he's the one who performs the water-gargling "vocals" to one song. Put it this way: if they walked into the pub, you wouldn't mistake them for tax inspectors on a night out.

In the technicolour universe that Acid Mothers Temple inhabit, each and every song presents the opportunity for a freakout - and every opportunity passed up is very definitely an opportunity wasted. They are definitely firm believers in wringing the most out of a riff, the opening song (like Yo La Tengo's last night) stretching for a good ten minutes.

This isn't simply about headfuck noise, though. There's plenty of weirdness and randomness during the intervals between passages of aural punishment - monk-style chanting, for instance - and it's at these moments that I feel most disorientingly removed from their plane.

The final song of the set has been going at full tilt for fifteen minutes, when it suddenly scales back down to the opening guitar motif. Surely that must be it? Surely they can't ratchet it up again, louder and more intense? Oh yes they can. Another ten minutes later - during which Makoto presumably gives the venue manager kittens, swinging his guitar round his head and then rubbing it against the back of the amps suspended from the converted church's ceiling - it's finally over. Whither my brain?

When they reappear for the encore, Atsushi is wearing a pair of butterfly wings. It's that kind of night.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

In The Dock: R'n'B

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: R'n'B

(And just for clarification, following James' comment to the post below - we're talking about R'n'B in the contemporary sense here...)

The case for the prosecution (Swiss Toni)

I am of the firm opinion that the categorisation of music into genres is probably the last refuge of the scoundrel (or Paul Gambaccini, if they’re not actually one and the same thing). If a record is good, what does it matter whether we choose to classify it as indie, or pop, or disco or whatever? My record collection is resolutely alphabetised. In this democracy everyone is equal: Mozart sits side-by-side with Morrissey, The White Stripes and Scott Walker sit alongside ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer’.

Having said that, if we are going to generalise, let me just say that I can’t abide R’n’B.

Categorisation being what it is, I should probably just be absolutely clear what I mean by "R’n’B", right? Well, I’m not talking about soul music and I’m not talking about funk music. If we’re going to draw arbitrary lines, then I’m drawing mine there and I’m saying that those are different genres. I’ve got absolutely no argument with Fats Domino or George Clinton, and I’m certainly not picking a fight with Aretha or James Brown. I’m not talking about hip-hop either. That’s an argument for a different day, but in my books, hip-hop lyrics are rapped, R’n’B lyrics are sung. Yeah I know it’s not a clear-cut thing, but that’s the thing about categorisation isn’t it? It’s never black and white.

OK. Rational argument Swiss, rational argument…. You’ll never convince anyone to vote for you if you don’t present a rational case for the prosecution. OK, well here it is: the music is shit. It’s worse than shit – it’s insipid and it’s lazy. There. I’ve said it. I’ve summarily dismissed a whole genre of music. Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t like it. The acts are preening idiots, the videos are laughable and the lyrics are execrable. R’n’B is Heat or Hello magazine in musical form. Maybe it’s no coincidence that David Beckham is a big fan. What’s for him not to like? The ostentatious pursuit and vulgar display of wealth? The preening narcissism? The glorification of people of little or no talent at the expense of genuine achievement? It’s all there, and it’s all set to a crappy, synthesised backing track. I look forward with interest to Beckham’s inevitable foray into the genre. Maybe I could file it alongside Belly, Booker T & The MGs and Boston.

Obviously I’m generalising, but I really can’t think of any other genre of music that does as little for me as R’n’B. It just leaves me completely cold. I can see the formula, but where’s the imagination? Where’s the substance?

Here’s my recipe for the perfect R’n’B act.

1. For male R’n’B artiste - Take one young, black male. Send him to the gym until buff. Dress him in baggy leisurewear, ideally a white tracksuit. Perch baseball cap at an angle on the top of his head, possibly on top of a bandana. Provide with a song that enables maximum bragging about own personal wealth, and sexual prowess. Ensure gratuitous display of lightly oiled torso. Add guest rapper to taste. Signature act: Usher (although see also D’Angelo and R Kelly).

2. For female R’n’B artiste - Take one young, black female. Send her to the gym until buff, although not so buff that she loses her sizeable tits and her bountiful booty. Dress in as little as possible. Provide with song that allows maximum vocal showboating and a video that displays the maximum jiggle. Add guest rapper to taste. Signature act: Mariah Carey (although see also J-Lo, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton and Beyonce).

Half-bake and serve.

The thing about categorisation like this though is that any generalising argument is nonsense. By indiscriminately slagging off a whole genre, all I’m doing is showing my own ignorance. Not only are my likes and dislikes entirely subjective, but everything that I have said here could pretty much be applied to any other genre. Aren’t all indie videos formulaic? Don’t all the bands look the same and sound the same? Where’s the imagination? Where’s the substance?

You see what I mean?

I suppose it comes down to personal taste then, which doesn’t really make for much of a debate.

"I like it."
"Well I hate it."
"Right then."

Well, my dad’s bigger than your dad… so you’d best vote for the prosecution, eh?

Besides. I defy you to tell me that Usher isn’t shit. He really is. You know he is.

The case for the defence (Del)

Syrupy slush. Power grabs. A grown man standing on top of a mountain with his shirt open, arms out stretched, eyes closed, wailing. Hmmm. Goldie Lookin Chain hit the nail on the head with their remorseless pastiche of the current townie sound. R'n'B really doesn't inspire the most flattering images, does it? Gaudy jewellery, somewhat sleazy sex and some genuinely awful artists: The likes of R Kelly, Mariah Carey, Usher, Pussy Cat Dolls and Sisquo certainly won't be going near my mp3 player any time soon. Cheesy, bland, over produced crap.

But then, but then.

Amerie shaking it over 'One Thing'. John Legend's simple piano on 'Ordinary People'. Justin finding his soul on 'Cry Me A River'. Destiny's Child destroying the dancefloor with 'Bug A Boo'. Aaliyah breathlessly emoting on 'Try Again'. TLC setting their men right on 'No Scrubs'. Kelis effortlessly seducing on 'Milkshake'. Nelly burning up on 'Hot In Herre'. Missy electro-cuting Ciara on 'Lose Control'. Faith Evans laying down the law on 'You Gets No Love'. Andre 3000 giving it all on 'Hey Ya!' Angie Stone purging on 'Wish I Didn't Miss You'. N.E.R.D turning the tables on 'Provider'. And Beyonce turning the whole world upside down and inside out with 'Crazy In Love'.

Oh my! Redemption, surely? Perhaps like all genres, R'n'B just has its good and its bad. Its image is as misplaced as guns 'n' bling is for hip-hop, pills and fluffy bras for dance and malnourished drugged-up white boys for indie rawk. And yet, for some reason, R'n'B more than all these others has an image problem.

You can't fault the pedigree. The merging of the psychedelic funk and soul of the 70s as disco breathed its last. In the 80s it absorbed influences from electro and hip-hop, helping it take over the dancefloor. And at the turn of the century, when so much alternative rock slipped into middle-of-the-road blandness and dance music overstretched itself, R'n'B had a producer-driven renaissance. The Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins, Kanye West and Timbaland made (and continue to make) records that were forward-looking and accessible, that challenged the mind and got your arse on the dancefloor. Black people with computers are currently making some of the most exciting music in the world.

Just listen to Kelis' 'Caught Out There'. One of the tunes that kicked off the current boom. The rhythm track is just random noise and bleeps. The beat is artificial, minimal and cold. The vocal screams at you. And yet it's completely irresistible. It made Kelis an international star and The Neptunes the hottest producers in the world.

Sure there's dross, but that's the price of being the biggest sound in the world right now. R'n'B is the sound of pop. It floats from every lowered twin-exhaust Nova and mobile phone in town. Britney, J-Lo and Robbie want the cachet that R'n'B brings. Familiarity breeds contempt. But scratch the surface of the Top 10 and the latest flavour of the month, and there are some great R'n'B records out there.

In just the past few weeks I've loved Jamelia's 'Something About You', Nelly Furtado's 'Promiscuous Girl', Christina's 'Ain't No Other Man', Justin's 'My Love', Chamillionaire's 'Ridin', Gnarls Barkley's 'Who Cares', Kelis' 'Bossy' and John Legend's fantastic new album Once Again. Exciting and sexy, often wonderfully silly and fun, but also soulful and eminently danceable. The world of music would sure be a duller place without R'n'B. And without 'Crazy In Love' in my record box, how am I going to fill the dancefloor...?

* * * * *

Thanks to Swiss Toni and Del. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, November 17, 2006

In The Dock: The Levellers - the verdict

The defence may have stormed into an early 4-0 lead, but it ain't over until the fat lady sings, as the saying goes...

In favour of Caskared's case for the prosecution: 9 (Pete A, RussL, Martin, Betty, Ben, Mark, Swiss Toni, drmigs, Del)

In favour of Damo's case for the defence: 7 (Ian, JonnyB, Mike, Richard, Jonathan B, James, Paul)

So The Levellers are found guilty as charged. And I've managed to back the winner, so to speak, for the first time in four attempts...

Thanks again to Caskared and Damo for their contributions.

Coming later today: Swiss Toni and Del do battle over R 'n' B.

And then everything turned itself inside-out


"37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster" screamed a newspaper headline back in April 2002. As you might have guessed, the newspaper in question was The Onion, the publication which singlehandedly and repeatedly proves that, contrary to popular myth, Americans can and do have a firm grasp of irony, satire and other subtle forms of wit.

Anyway, it's funny because it's true. It's a safe bet that if fire raged through the Point tonight on the same sort of scale as it did at Brum's last remaining rock club Edwards No 8 at the weekend, Spillers would be a few men and women down. Indeed, the whole Cardiff indie scene would collapse, as a quick game of I-spy confirms: Gary of Twisted By Design near at hand, Gindrinker guitarist Graf just in front of me, Noel of Lesson No 1 and Neil of Los Campesinos! flitting around like ten-year-olds on the Red Bull...

But enough of the assembled throng - what of the bands?

Support comes from Bristolians Minotaur Shock, signed to the legendary 4AD label. A spot of post-gig research reveals that they really only consist of one person, David Edwards, and that the other two only appear live. Research also proves that I'm not mad in imagining he was a purveyor of glitchy Boards Of Canada electronica in the past. If that's a past Edwards is keen to leave behind, then on tonight's showing he's making a very convincing fist of it.

The songs seem to possess some kind of weird groove almost in spite of themselves, a rhythmic funk that approximates Talking Heads, albeit with the addition of flute, oboe and programming. Particularly entertaining are the two tracks on which Edwards is shown drumming along to on a projection screen (a la Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips a few years back), the on-screen figure pausing to drink a cup of tea when the drums cut out and the real-life on-stage incarnation finishes up. It's not easy to get your head around first time (and the crowd's response is pretty muted), though definitely worthy of further investigation.

Confession time. It may come as something of a surprise given my tastes that I've never quite got into Yo La Tengo. 2003's Today Is The Day EP is brilliant, but somehow I've never got round to following that purchase up with more. It's perhaps most surprising because of their similarities to my favourite band. Like Sonic Youth, not only is Hoboken, New Jersey the place the trio call home; they can also boast a long career marked by numerous peaks (they formed in 1984), and share an interest in incorporating experimentation with feedback, dissonance and drones into a relatively accessible indie rock sound.

There are also striking similarities with another American threesome beloved of critics and fans alike: Low. Like the Duluth trio, Yo La Tengo are founded upon a husband and wife duo on guitar and drums respectively - in this case Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley - though the contribution of the bassist, James McNew, shouldn't be underestimated.

McNew it is who is vital to the ten minutes of sheer bliss that make up the opening song, locking down the groove with an insistent bassline to allow Kaplan to venture off into the fantasy world of the unfettered lead guitarist. If that isn't enough to win the crowd over, then the nods to local heroes certainly are - Megan of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci appears to accompany them on the violin, and Kaplan tells us that the acoustic guitar he's using belongs to Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and has been lent to them for the occasion because "it has a nicer pick guard" than their own.

You want song titles? 'Fraid I can't help you there, really, though they definitely play 'The Weaker Part' from their splendidly titled new LP I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, and I'm pretty certain 'I Heard You Looking' is in there somewhere too. There's a bit of a lull mid-set, I feel, when they overdose slightly on the avant-jazz and lightweight pop-rock stuff - though it has to be said they have a more catholic aesthetic than Sonic Youth, and that these songs do provide welcome textural variation. But the medley which brings the main set to an end is intense, thunderous and thrilling. Don't just take my word for it - how's about asking the hairy young man in the Eagles T-shirt moshing away at the front like his life depends on it?

They return for a low-key four song encore and, although (sadly) 'Today Is The Day' never puts in an appearance, at last there's a song I know and even own, 'Let's Save Tony Orlando's House' from 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. Two of the others are covers: the first 'The Readymades' by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whom they are delighted to have seen at St David's Hall the previous night; and the second (the last song of the night) an unnamed Welsh folk song performed with a sublime gentleness of touch.

One of those nights when everything suddenly becomes crystal clear, then. Not quite gig of the year - but certainly well up there.

(Turns out I wasn't the only member of the audience uninitiated in the Church of Yo La Tengo: check out this review from the MusicOMH site.

Oh, and the "Welsh folk song" was John Cale's 'Andalucia', according to Drowned In Sound gig reviewer Will Dean. I'll take your word for it, Will.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

In The Dock: The Levellers

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: The Levellers

The case for the prosecution (Caskared)

I don’t like The Levellers. No, that is an understatement. I detest The Levellers.

Being a teenager in the 1990s and being of an indie-kid persuasion meant that any given social situation would at some point have The Levellers played at top volume. Many a night would end with a drunken rendition by some of my friends of "There’s only one, waaaaay-hov life, and thatssyrrrown thasssssyrrrrown thatssssssyoooouuuurrrown-ah". Bellowed that song was, sometimes getting caught in a loop, the chorus endlessly orbiting, individuality proclaimed in unison. And at home too, my little sister played them; spilling through the thin walls they drove me to distraction. The fiddles seemed to have a particular frequency that would travel further than the rest of the tune, and a knack of eking their way round the house to find my ears. After leaving home I found myself again clawing at the walls, almost Pavlovian was my reaction to how much I disliked the music when a coursemate played them in our studio. My hackles would raise, my teeth gnaw, my head throb and my mood would sour. And although their ubiquity has waned, The Levellers are still the stock soundtrack to any montage on TV about the travelling community or the mere glimpse of a dreadlock.

But the question is why? It’s more than just overplay and being haunted (in a bad way) by their tunes. It’s a holistic hatred I have, beginning with the violins, the vocals, the graphics, the very name, their melodic choices, and… and…

So, for starters the violin playing. It’s mindless. I enjoy a good céilídh, I listen to 'Late Junction' on Radio 3, I like my quality reel, but The Levellers would reduce it to a droning eternal loop of upbeat jiggery pokery (although it’s better in the later records). And they play those Vanessa May stylee electric ones that look preposterous and have a synthetic grape-like tone. What’s more they don’t complement the singer’s voice. The fiddles have at least a kind of richness to them, the fellow there’s voice is a bit nasal and very flat. He breaks up the words with a breathy glottal stop; "carry me home" becomes "carre-hey mi-hey ho-ohome-eh". It’s mediocre, not bad, but certainly not good. It has no discerning features. He’s no Billy Bragg or Elvis Costello, he’s not a Neil Hannon or softness of Sice. He’s not as bad as a lot of their contemporaries, but he’s nothing special.

Their graphics recount Expressionism, Die Brucke and the harsh imagery from times of Europe being gripped by world war. Naïve folk art too, but ultimately it’s marketing for a band. It’s cynical and pseudo, it’s abrasive and ugly with an anti-aesthetic that doesn’t really achieve anything. They are mass marketing the idea of the hand-made wood block. They also go for the carnival look crossed with Celtic symbols, ultimately watering down everything they source.

And their name, Levellers being those who bring everything down to the lowest common denominator. Well, I guess it’s appropriate as they’re nothing special. Actually, it’s a pretty noble sentiment, but then when they have been asked they say it’s after an area where they grew up, or just from a dictionary. When choosing something so politically loaded this seems a bit inane. And it’s not like the band are a-political, they are full-on committed Lefties. They’re famed for living their politics – each band member receiving a certain amount each day and not being allowed to exceed it – that’s great, refreshing, although this failed a bit when one band member left because he couldn’t get extra money to buy something fancy after he’d already spent his day’s quota on, I don’t know, a dream catcher or something.

I agree with a lot of what they have campaigned for, and I’m pleased that they have used the medium to get their voice across, it’s just the actual music I have issues with. It is the watered-down folk rock of it all – the melodies that do exactly what you expect them to do, the weak linking sections between one bellowy bit to the next, the incoherent structures…they are just not very good as a band yet are totally overrated.

The case for the defence (Damo)

To start on a general point... when you say "I don’t like band X", what are you really saying? Let me put that another way: how do you feel when someone – a journalist, a friend – berates your favourite band? Do you pull out the "all opinions are subjective" argument? (Most of these In The Dock debates are about concepts, ideas, "movements" – anything except bands. The Beatles argument that has already taken place was largely about "Beatles as phenomenon", not "Beatles as band".) Take a look at footage of The Levellers headlining the Glastonbury Festival in 1994 – those tens of thousands of people jumping up and down and enjoying themselves… do you begrudge them their entertainment? Great. Vote for the prosecution and join the people who stand in the kitchen and house parties, glaring at the people in the hallway who are… gasp!… dancing and having fun. The scallywags.

So, if we move on from the fact that everyone’s got their own views, and neatly sidestep the fact that you sang along to 'One Way' when you were younger (you did), we have to look at what else any band does to distinguish itself from another band. What do they do, say, for the wider world?

The Levellers were active against stupid legislation such as elements of the Criminal Justice Act – before, during and after the time it was "fashionable" to take this standpoint. They stood up for the people who got treated like crap for having the temerity to want to hold a little celebration near Stonehenge (if you think I’m not being even-handed, watch the Glastonbury movie that came out earlier this year). And, despite having an album called Zeitgeist, they never changed their sound to suit the incoming trends. When they were no longer trendy (ask anyone who was a student in the early 90s), they didn’t care what you thought, they just carried on. With Oasis, most of Britain seems to have decided that was a virtue. Why not The Levellers?

Oh… and they pointed out what a pile of shite the NME was becoming years before most of us did. More brownie points in my book.

What else? They set up the Metway studio in Brighton, and gave studio time and experience to lots of upcoming bands for little or no cost. That’s a legacy that still stands to this day.

Perhaps you think they have no relevance to now, or that they don’t serve as an influence to any current bands. In which case, you’ve never heard Larrikin Love. Or Gogol Bordello. Like both of them, they were – and are – a great live band. And a deceptively noisy one. By the time they get to playing 'Belarus', earplugs are usually the order of the day. And when they played Glastonbury in 2005, they were still a massive crowd draw… see the first paragraph again. Numbers aren’t everything, but people vote with their feet at festivals.

Ah yes, festivals. Fed up of the fact that Reading makes you drink the worst beer in the world, and treats you like a small kid? Fed up of the ridiculous corporatism (and the increasing chav presence) of the V Festival? They’re supposed to be fun, aren’t they? An escape from the humdrum, a chance to be yourself for the weekend. Well, they’re ahead of you again, because they set up Beautiful Days for these very reasons. People who go there once go back. It sells out quicker every year, as people realise that being treated like a human being, especially when you’ve paid money for the privilege, is a good thing. Even if you don’t like The Levellers, remember this is another thing they’ve left as a legacy for everyone, not just fans of the band. Is this too much hippy crap for you? Ho hum - go and be a goth or something.

And if the prosecution makes one lame "dog on a string" joke, it loses by default.

* * * * *

Thanks to Caskared and Damo. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, November 10, 2006

In The Dock: Songs with associated dance moves - the verdict

After last week's landslide, a very close one...

In favour of Alison's case for the prosecution: 5 (Ian, James, Pete, Ben, Jonathan)

In favour of Dead Kenny's case for the defence: 6 (Paul, Lord Bargain, Phill, Del, drmigs, RussL)

Honourable abstentions: 1 (Mike)

So, songs with associated dance moves are acquitted of the charges levelled against them.

Thanks again to Alison and Dead Kenny for their contributions.

Coming soon (with any luck): it's Caskared v Damo over The Levellers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

20/20 vision

Out now: issue #20 of Vanity Project, as founded and edited by A-Z Of Music contributor Skif. And what does this milestone issue of the fanzine contain? Well, amongst other things...

Interview: Robots In Disguise

Album reviews: Mercury Rev, Howling Bells, Milburn, James Yorkston, Plaid & Bob Jaroc, Tapes 'N' Tapes, Envy, Wolf Eyes, His Name Is Alive, Anathallo, Spotlight Kid

Single reviews: Dirty Pretty Things, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, DJ Shadow, The Pipettes, The Long Blondes, The Broken Family Band, The Horrors, Tuung, Klaxons, Albert Hammond Jr, Juliette Lewis and the Licks, Psapp, Piskie Sits, Blackbud

Live reviews: Creamfields, The Young Knives, The Gossip

For details of how to get your mitts on a copy for the cost of postage alone, click here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

In The Dock: Songs with associated dance moves

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: songs with associated dance moves

The case for the prosecution (Alison)

‘The Birdie Song’, ‘The Hokey-Cokey’, ‘Musicman’, ‘The Locomotion’, the entire Black Lace back catalogue. You almost certainly know the songs and you could probably give a competent performance of the dances. Indeed, you might even have some fond memories of a wedding or Butlins holiday where everyone got up and joined in. But believe me, it’s the rose (or rosé) tinted glasses at work.

At the outset of my prosecution I would like to clearly state that I am making reference to songs with associated, pre-formatted dances as opposed to songs which spontaneously inspire literal dance moves. The latter, known as interpretive dance, where the meaning of a song is interpreted through the medium of movement, is clearly brilliant; you need only look at Pan’s People for proof.

When songs with associated dances are played at events (usually those supported by a mobile disco DJ called Dave), people feel they have the right to force you to get up and join in. Indeed, it is even considered acceptable for a conga line to forcibly take hostages on its journey through the room(s). If you decline people assume that you are shy of your dancing prowess and offer encouragement: "But everyone can dance to this". But the fact that everyone can do it does not make doing it a good idea. If you refuse to participate you are labelled "miserable" and looks of disapproval are cast from the people who "know how to have fun".

I agree that dancing is fun, just not that kind of dancing. For me, dancing is about appreciating the music and there is a distinct lack of things to appreciate about the catalogue of songs with associated dances. Typically they are insipid soulless pop tunes, churned out for the masses, dances being bolted on for additional market appeal. The lyrics are superficial or even ridiculous, emphasis being placed on cramming in as many actions as possible (think Black Lace’s ‘Superman’). Dancing should also be about expressing your individuality and freedom (cf Ren’s impassioned speech in 'Footloose'), but there is nothing creative or unique about 100 people "pushing pineapple", and "grinding coffee" together.

I hate the fact that these songs make it acceptable to flout polite society’s tacit rules on bodily contact. I do not want some beer-laden old man to grab my hips, while I am led across the room by the arse of another beer-laden old man. Likewise, I do not want to see newly acquainted couples gyrating against one another while they recreate a 'Dirty Dancing' scene to the Lambada. In terms of specific moves, I should draw attention to the seemingly obligatory ballop* thrusting manoeuvre. Indeed, it is "the pelvic thrust that really drives [me] insane". The sight of your own parents and grandparents simulating sex on the dance floor is incredibly distressing and something I’m sure scars many people for life.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking I’m being unreasonable; songs with associated dances are for kids. If this were true I would not forward any objections, let CBeebies’ Boogie Babies show them on repeat. But the fact is that gown-ups, who should know better, dance to these things. If it has been a while since you frequented your local discothèque, you may be under the false impression that the popularity of these songs died with the 80s and they should be cherished for their ability to conjure memories of a specific era. Think again! The soundtrack to my University life is sandwiched between Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ and Steps’ ‘Tragedy’. And I would bet you any money that the floors of student union bars have been marked since then by the feet of 2-for-1-alcopop-fuelled students doing ‘The Macarena’, ‘The Fastfood Song’ and ‘The Cha Cha Slide’.

I urge the jury to find in favour of the prosecution on this matter and if not, please at least leave me in the corner to drink my vodka and coke in peace the next time they play ‘YMCA’.

* "Ballop": this term refers to the triangulated region between the upper thighs and lower belly. It could be replaced with the word "groin", but then I wouldn’t have the chance to use my favourite word.

The case for the defence (Dead Kenny)

There's you. And there's me. And there's... DANCING! But further still, I submit to you, wise old judge and jury, if it wasn't for dancing there probably wouldn't be me or you in the first place. And then there'd be a dirty great black hole where the majestic Los Campesinos! track resides on MySpace, and that's an alternative present none of us surely want to contemplate.

Confused? You would have been slightly had you found yourself in a provincial nightclub at 2am in the mid-90s faced with the prospect of busting the moves associated with Whigfield's 'bottom-tastic' discopop classic 'Saturday Night'. But the great thing was the only way to suss out the score was to closely monitor the wiggly bum shaking of the hot girl / guy / alien in front of you, while a similarly clueless chump / chumpette / spacechimp behind you did the same to you. Sex was had, and future generations were born.

Now I know what you might be thinking, that yes, dancing is all well and funky, but why do we need songs with associated dance moves rather than just let our bodies naturally interact with those crazy beats? I over-rule your objection on the grounds that you've clearly never been to a club where people are allowed to dance on a free-form basis, or been to a rave when not completely out of your skull on drugs. 99% of people can't dance, dancing is seen as a good indicator of your suitability in the sack, and therefore without carefully guided instruction in these matters the Human Race is likely to be exctinct by 2025. Ladies and gentlemen, the future of civilisation is in your hands, I beseech that you do not come to your decision lightly.

If you were being honest, learned friends, you've had a lot more fun doing the bunny's ear hand moves to 'The Birdie Song' with the secretary from Accounts than you ever did sitting in your bedsit feeling grumpy while listening to some mumbling Scottish indie. Sweeping your hand horizontally across the horizon of your mind's eye to John Travolta's 'Greased Lightning' got you much more attention from the opposite / same / alien sex than shouting loudly at the bar about how you were way too cool to shake some action. Doing the Timewarp was one of the great blasts of your life. Michael Jackson's moonwalk was ace for... well, a couple of minutes, anyway. Even songs with associated dance moves whose dance moves never caught on were still great records - Madonna's 'Vogue' or Kylie's 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head', for instance.

Dancing to songs with associated dance moves is one of those rare moments on a dancefloor where you quickly pick up exactly what you're supposed to be doing, and where any initial nervousness just gives you further opportunity for interaction with members of the opposite / same / alien sex. Which means you're left to relax, have fun and be yourself within the comfortable boundaries of a recognised structure. In fact, writing a song that doesn't lend itself to associated dance moves is just plain selfish and unsociable when you think about it. Heavy metal bands did cheat a little, mind, by having a one-dance-move-fits-all approach to their cock-rock nonsense, although getting down on your knees and shaking your greasy locks into those of your similarly wrong-haired layabouts was dancing in only the loosest sense, to be sure.

So, in summary, the only people who could possibly object to songs with associated dance moves are those people who are too lazy to dance and are upset that such songs / routines rob them of the excuse that they don't know how to dance. And those people who are too lazy to dance are almost certainly too lazy to fuck. So who cares what they think anyway?

So dismiss these trumped-up charges with immediate effect, don't forget to point to the stars and mind those steps on your way out of the courtroom.

* * * * *

Thanks to Alison and Dead Kenny. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent? YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, November 03, 2006

In The Dock: The Eurovision Song Contest - the verdict

A landslide, in anyone's language...

In favour of drmigs' case for the prosecution: 4 (David, Ben, Dead Kenny (yes, I'm taking that as a vote for the prosecution...), Del)

In favour of Mike's case for the defence: 12 (Pete A, Damo, Martin, Z, Chig, Lord Bargain, Ian, Asta, Swiss Toni, Caskared, Paul, Alison)

The Eurovision Song Contest gets off scot-free, then. There is, though, a slap on the wrist for the victor Mike for exceeding the 750 word limit...

Thanks to drmigs and Mike for their contributions.

Coming either later today or (more likely) on Sunday, depending on when I get a moment: Alison takes on Dead Kenny over songs with associated dance moves.

Fright night


Upstairs in the Model Inn tonight it's Hallowe'en F.A.G.-style - and that means superb costumes (making me feel woefully underdressed and unimaginative), apple bobbing, neck sucking and some fine musical entertainment.

First up are local cult duo Gindrinker, and it takes them less than a song to reveal quite why they're thought of in those terms. They are, to all intents and purposes, a stripped-down Fall plus drum machine fronted by a misanthrope on a gin bender.

Certain songs are - as the band's Vic Reeves-esque raconteur recognises - suited to Hallowe'en (particularly the one about being chopped up and left in bin bags in the woods), while others are less so (the anti-greengrocer rant and 'God Of Darts', a wonky shouty hymn in praise of Jim Bowen and 'Bullseye'). There's no finesse or polish, just scabrous wit in spades. Let's just say I like the cut of their jib.

There follows a brief piece of barely-rehearsed performance art featuring members of Drunk Granny and Gender Fascist which takes the form of a theatrical song about suicidal female authors. You can't help but appreciate lines like "My name is Sylvia Plath, so please don't let me near the gas" and the rousing climax of "O what a thrill to be mentally ill!"...

After the charming chaos of the evening's first two performances, Drei are very different. The Brighton trio, for whom Cardiff is a stop-off on a short UK tour, are evidently very accomplished musicians who share an intuitive understanding with each other.

They specialise in a sinister form of post-rocky jazz with the occasional fluttering of electronics, though the final song - a rousing footstomping Cossack-style jig - marks a significant departure from that blueprint. By the end of their set, I'm left cursing myself for having allowed my attention to be swayed barwards for the early part of their set.

Drei's cellist Bela Emerson isn't finished there, though. The night ends with an improvised collaboration between her and Lily Green, fresh from making her Clwb debut two days earlier. With Lily locked in the zone, pounding away maniacally at her keyboard with stunning verve and aggression, Bela's contribution is often overpowered and overshadowed. Nevertheless, the fruit of their efforts is gripping in its intensity, and conjures up dark images appropriate to the occasion.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

If you like this, why not try...

Two splendid music features currently underway on other sites:

Taking up TAON's very own Pete's gauntlet is RussL, who is risking health and sanity by undertaking the Going Deaf For A Fortnight challenge. In other words, fourteen gigs in fourteen nights. Will he make it to the end? How severe will the tinnitus be? And, most pertinently, how many "OK melodic rock bands" will he see / be able to stomach?

Meanwhile, for the duration of this month Simon of Sweeping The Nation will be asking friends, bloggers and musicians to write about songs that deserve to be heard and appreciated by a wider audience. The feature's called Songs To Learn And Sing, and in addition to the words Simon will be endeavouring to provide a sound file to each featured track.

I should also point you in the direction of the latest downloadable Sweeping The Nation covermount. This time the theme is songs containing lists - which means brilliant tracks from Queens Of The Stone Age and Le Tigre, in addition to the inevitable 'Reasons To Be Cheerful' and 'We Didn't Start The Fire'.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

This town is big enough for the both of us

Thanks to TAON contributor for alerting me to the existence of a new collaborative music blog for which he's also writing: The Auditorium.